Waking up to Wisdom
In Stillness and Community

Knowing When to Improvise

--by Patricia Ryan Madson (Sep 29, 2008)

A successful life involves both planning and improvising. Sometimes we actually do need a script. Those scripts that are working well for us (positive habits, for example) should be preserved and treasured. Spontaneity for its own sake is never the key. Knowing which strategy to use involves examining things clearly. Our moment-to-moment experience is improvisational, even though it exists within a structure or plan. That is, life brings us opportunities, questions, and problems to solve, and we respond in real time, trying to make sense out of each challenge or offer.  How we live our lives within the structure of our day is an eternal improvisation.

The invitation to improvise is not a prescription for a careless approach to life. True improvisation is always an act of responsibility; it implies a conscious morality. We may know individuals who flaunt spontaneity as the supreme virtue and excuse thoughtless or selfish behavior in the name of “going with the flow.”  I am reminded of an inscription on a gold-lettered plaque over an oak bar in a Welsh bar: Pisces Mortui Solum Cum Flumine Natant. (“Only dead fish go with the flow.”) Failure to plan can have real consequences. Scheduling medical checkups is important. It is important to buy airline tickets in advance, fill up the gas tank before the fuel gauge signals empty, and pay a parking ticket the day you receive it. [...]

You are always the one steering the canoe, however. Sometimes on the white-water-rapids course it is both relaxing and exhilarating to be swept along by the swells, oars at rest, watching the scenery and marveling at the ease of it all. And sometimes we must paddle [...] against the current in order to take a fork in the river.

In 1982 I took a year off from teaching to circumnavigate the globe. I bought a one-way around-the-world airline ticket. I was allowed to make as many stops as I liked, in the line of direction, but couldn’t backtrack or go too far north or south of my last stop, and I had to complete my journey within twelve months. Buying the ticket gave me a sense of stability (planning); experiencing all the places was the great adventure. Planning provided a platform for me to improvise. Taking an improvised step always leads you somewhere.

Notice where you are going.

--Patricia Ryan Madson, From "Improv Wisdom"

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12 Previous Reflections:

On Feb 24, 2009 GOURISHANKAR SEAL wrote:
A fantastic and inspirational piece of writing ; it just went with the "flow"

On Oct 2, 2008 dilip wrote:
your doing what is good for humanity.Pray cont."MAY YOUR TRIBE INCREASE""

On Oct 2, 2008 panagiota wrote:
I think that both planning and improvisation are necessary. Personally, I have experienced a kind of inner flow that needs planning but I wait till the right moment comes.

On Oct 1, 2008 THANKGOD wrote:
life is impotant but money is necessary

On Sep 30, 2008 CindyLee wrote:
"A successful life involves both planning and improvising. Sometimes we actually do need a script."

This was a good article, but I think that we should go with the flow sometimes when it is needed. I agree that we should make a plan at times also but make sure that the plan can be changed if needed. Going with the flow can be a great thing for someone to learn a lesson in life. There should always be balance in a person's life, going with the flow and planning when it is necessary, just stay open and receptive to your intuition and you will know when to use each action.



On Sep 30, 2008 Guess who? wrote:
Looks like all of you are retarded people. For God sake, how you can see this as a good article when it is crap? RUBBISH for sure...get a life and a real one -- at least try..."planning and inspiration"... this is brain washing ... this article is one of the most amazing crap I read in years...and all of you are hypocrites!
The website is a great one, but this article is ONLY for retarded people for morons !!!

On Sep 30, 2008 oemas wrote:
Thank you for sharing your reflections on travel and improv...I believe another "plan" would be to consider one's journey (adult) similar to a vehicle without a rear view mirror (no worries), and of course no Reverse gear, meaning one can continue on their paths, and if a "wrong" turn should happen, make sure it's on a "cul de sac"...

On Sep 30, 2008 M Selvanathan wrote:
Whoever - an individual or a group; you have done a great job. This are marvellous inspirations that makes me experience life in the moment and look at all the problems that I have as teachable moments - making me learn and grow each day.

Thanks so much.

On Sep 30, 2008 nittu wrote:
I agree.Planning is important but do plans always work.Yes filling up petrol and everyday details should be kept in mind but no longtime planning for me.Life is too unpredictable.I take each day as it comes and have learnt to take things in my stride.Each day is a new day,a blessing...ENJOY!!!

On Sep 29, 2008 Kota Rama Rao wrote:
Excellent Article.. pl. be on the same way in motivating people......Society.....and all........

On Sep 29, 2008 K.Venkat Reddy wrote:
I found this website very useful for those who interested in new things and Spirit of Confidence.

On Sep 29, 2008 Jude wrote:
excellent story. keep it up.
send daily...